Summer’s house

Summer has built her house around me
with green fern walls
and a sky roof woven
from criss-crossed bird flight.
– Melinda Schwakhofer

Slow down

My life in the time of Coronavirus is moving to a different rhythm.   I’ve always loved being at home, so not much has changed there.   The village where I live has a chemist, butcher, greengrocer, newsagent and shop.  There is enough of everything we need and our community is looking out for one another.

When lockdown came to the UK two weeks ago, I made a long list of household tasks and have been thinking about all of the artistic projects that I now have time for.    But some, or many, days it is all I can do to get up and get through the day.  I’ve been relishing my daily late afternoon naps more than ever.  Sleeping pretty well through the night, but having some disturbing dreams.

I’m finding it really hard to concentrate and flit from one activity to another more than usual.  My emotions run the gamut from fear and despair to feeling calm and ‘okay’, often a few times in a day,  This is all a normal response to radically different times.

Rather than focussing on ‘after this is over’, I’m focussing on how it is now.  What can I do now in the new shape that my life has become?

I’m working from home at my ‘bread and butter’ job two days a week.  Continuing to meet my Community Artwork colleagues, via Zoom,  We are developing an online Craftfulness in Quarantine group.  I’m working on another creative project in response to Mayflower 400.  Sometimes it is too much to engage with these pieces of work, but we are all able to express how we’re feeling and listen to one another.  It is such a different way of working together and all of the work is evolving in response to hugely changed circumstances.  I am finding that flexibility, responsiveness and suppleness are key.

All of that and sometimes, just slowing down.

Miss Pandemic 2020

You do not have to be productive.
You are not a dairy cow or a field of wheat.
Nothing will grind to a halt
if you do not take up the ukulele,
learn Spanish, start to crochet, master Pilates.

This is not a competition,
there will be no ‘Miss Pandemic 2020’
you cannot get a sash out of this,
you cannot win a crisis,

only hold each second like you
might hold a hand and think what can I do with you?
And you and you? Before long
you will have collected a minute.

Minute collecting is my new hobby.
I’m practising a lot.  I’m trying to do it as carefully
and slowly as possible and when I cry
I use the minutes I’ve collected to keep myself up.

I look around those minutes and see
what lives there and then I start again.
Everything has changed.  It is okay for this
not to feel like a holiday.  It’s not a holiday.

We are scared of air.  I tried to do yoga yesterday
but instead swore at the screen
and had a coffee and that’s okay.

-Erin Bolens

Will you walk into my parlour?

This evening I watched a delicate aerial pas a deux, a dance of life and death outside my window.

The poem is a cautionary tale against those who use flattery and charm to disguise their true evil intentions.

The Spider and the Fly

Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”
Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!”
Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, ” Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I ‘ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome — will you please to take a slice?”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I’ve a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you ‘re pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple — there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue —
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but she ne’er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

– Mary Howitt, 1829

 

January Dawn

On Tuesday morning, I forgot my book, so gazed out the window of the 7:30 bus winding down from Dartmoor into Exeter.  I took the images I saw into the darkroom of my Soul and melded them with words. I borrowed a pen from the lady at the cafe and painted a picture of the morning.

brumous1

January Dawn

A smudge of sun rises through the mist
to bathe the morning in pearlescence.

Proud winter trees stand over spiky frosted fields,
holding white twigged branches aloft.
They soften and undulate into the brumous distance.
Blackbirds quarrel in the hedgerows.

High above
an azure sky holds a waning sickle,
poised to reap another day.

– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2017

Shrouds of the Somme

July 1st, 2016  marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme, German: Schlacht an der Somme), also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. The battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The first day on the Somme was the worst day in the history of the British Army, which saw 19,240 deaths.

The Great Folly of 1916 by Jason Askew

The Great Folly of 1916 by Jason Askew

There is a very moving exhibit 19240 Shrouds of the Somme in Northernhay Gardens, Exeter to commemorate and remember the 19,240 British men who lost their lives on that day.  The Shrouds of the Somme will be open to the public from 7:30am – 9:00pm each day from Friday 1st July until Thursday 7th July.

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Each of the 19,240 soldiers who died during the first day of battle is represented by a 12 inch figure, wrapped and bound in a hand-stitched shroud and arranged in rows on the ground.  Artist Rob Heard spent six months handcrafting each of the figures.

The purpose of this work is to physicalise the number – to illustrate the enormity of the horror which unfolded and the loss of life.

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During the creation process Rob referred to a list of names of all of the British soldiers who fell on the first day of battle.

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Each figure is associated with a name so that each soldier is individually acknowledged and remembered.

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Rob worked his way down the  list, crossing off one name each time a soldier is created as he reflected on their individual experience.

Rob created the figures unaided, cutting and hand-stitching their calico shrouds, covering and binding them in a ritual of creation, remembrance and personal introspection. As each soldier is wrapped they take on their own form, twisting  and bending into their own unique shape – not only representing the dead – but death itself.

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It is easy to say the number but almost impossible now, almost 100 years on, to imagine the physical reality of the bodies and the impact that these deaths had on the friends and  families of these individual soldiers or collectively, upon society as a whole.

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The  sight of the figures both individually and collectively presents a poignant and provocative experience for the viewer, providing a moment for reflection within themselves about the physical reality of the war, in approximately 1:6 scale.

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Each of the names of the 19,240 soldiers is being read out over the course of the exhibit, as well as WWI poetry and prose.  One of the poems certainly read is ‘Before Action’ written by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson who served with the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment .  He wrote the poem on 29th June, 1916, two days before the Battle of the Somme.

WNH-sketch

‘Smiler, May 1916’ by Captain John Upcott

‘Smiler, May 1916’ from the pocket sketchbook of Captain John Upcott of the 9th Devons. ‘Smiler’ was the battalion’s nickname for Hodgson and this little sketch is almost certainly the last image of him.

Hodgson’s battalion was to advance across the downward slope of a hill, in full view of German trenches on three sides. They knew how slender their chances were.

Lt Hodgson was Bombing Officer in the attack. He was responsible for keeping the men supplied with grenades during the attack, which would be especially important if they got into the German positions.

On 1 July 1916, two days after penning ‘Before Action’, Noel Hodgson was killed in the opening minutes of the advance, as he had expected. Over half the battalion and all but one of the officers who fought that day became casualties with him.

He was aged 23. He would never again see a sunset.

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Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, O Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

– W. N. Hodgson